According to the Radiant Panel Association, this winter there will be more than 6.2 million square feet of floor space in homes nationwide where owners won't have to break out the slippers to combat chilly surfaces underfoot. After a significant jump in installations in 2004, radiant floor heating is turning from luxury to hot commodity. “The segment started to increase three or four years ago, but the main growth is still ahead of us,” says Nicolas Mottet, marketing communications manager for Warmly Yours, Long Grove, Ill. He says bathroom remodels are clearly a target market, though kitchens, sun-rooms, and basements are all installation opportunities.
Kevin McElroy agrees. “We think growth will be explosive,” says the vice president of sales for Nuheat, in Delta, British Columbia. “When you combine the fact that [radiant floor heating] is becoming the next must-have, with the strengths of the residential remodeling market, there's every reason for the category to grow 30% per year for the next five to 10 years.”
Remodelers can get in on that growth by upselling these easy-to-install products. Companies such as Nuheat, Warmly Yours, and EasyHeat in Granby, Conn., manufacture mesh-style mats that are generally set into a layer of thinset on the subfloor, then tiled over for a traditional bathroom application. Controlled by a wall-mounted thermostat, most systems can be programmed to start warming at specific times, like 30 minutes before your alarm clock goes off.
Mat Facts The mats differ by manufacturer, though all generally sandwich a serpentine of conductive wire between protective material. Warmly Yours supplies grid-like mats that can be cut between the wire rows to accommodate turns in the floor plan. Nuheat has fabric-like mats in 60 square and rectangular sizes that can be mixed and matched to fill the floor area. EasyHeat's Warm Tiles brand offers several mat sizes, and a loose wire that can wind around any shape room. Each company also offers custom services for odd-shaped mat needs or installation guides.
Radiant floor heating systems can't be used under hardwood floors because they can't be nailed through, but they are suitable for use under tile, carpet, or floating laminate floors. Thermostat setup should be handled by a licensed electrician. And, McElroy says, tile setters should use a latex- or acrylic-modified thinset that will allow for expansion and contraction as the wires heat and cool. Depending on square footage, pricing ranges from $500 installed for a bathroom to $1,000 for a kitchen, making radiant floor heating an affordable upgrade that many homeowners will add to other rooms as they continue to remodel or move. “Once you experience floor heating,” McElroy says, “it's hard to go back.”
For large-scale applications, particularly new construction or basement finishing, hydronic radiant heating can warm more than just the floors — it can heat the whole house. “People really want that sensation of warmth, and hydronic systems will let them experience that not just in their floors, but radiating up through the space,” says Paul Izenstark, director of technical services for Warmboard, Aptos, Calif. “The whole home becomes a radiant panel.”
Hydronic systems run water at up to 120°F through PEX tubing placed in special panels that replace traditional subflooring. The resulting 80°F to 85°F surface temperature can replace the need for traditional home heating. The systems also can interface with solar or ground-source systems.
For more product information, visit ebuild, Hanley Wood's interactive product catalog, at ebuild.com.